Here's our comprehensive look at the best ways to travel: how to find a deal, avoid lines, pack, fly, tip, and more.
PART TWO: LOYALTY PROGRAMS
The royal treatment
Members of loyalty programs get better service, fewer hassles, less paperwork, and great freebies and perks. So before you reserve anything (hotel, airline, car rental, etc.), join the loyalty club, even if you're only planning on doing business with the company a single time.
Don't be a hoarder
The value of frequent-flier miles is in decline. Don't sit on them hoping that someday you're going to trade them in for a round-the-world ticket. Use them ASAP to get upgrades, free tickets, even (ahem) magazine subscriptions. Some airlines--such as Continental and American--have online calendars that make it fairly easy to see when miles can be exchanged for free flights and upgrades.
Sell your mother for 10,000 miles
More and more airlines (including United and US Airways) are insisting you have "activity" in your account every 18 months or it'll be closed. Amass miles any way you feel comfortable: credit cards, car rentals, hotel stays, purchases from partner companies, whatever.
Airlines simply cannot be trusted
Don't assume that miles will be added to your account automatically. The burden of making sure you get credited is entirely on you. Check your balance online, and if the miles fail to show up within a week after you've flown, contact the airline reward program.